IBM, Cornell identifying food hazards before outbreaks occur

IBM, Cornell identifying food hazards before outbreaks occur

When it comes to food safety, being able to identify traits of what is considered “normal” for a food ingredient, helps producers detect when something is “abnormal.” IBM and Cornell University will be collaborating to help keep the global milk supply safe.

Specifically, next-generation genetic sequencing combined with bioinformatics analytics, will help reduce the chances of safety breaches impacting dairy.

The teaching dairy barn at Cornell University will provide real-world conditions for researchers.

The teaching dairy barn at Cornell University will provide real-world conditions for researchers. Lindsay France/University Photography

Researchers will collect genetic data from the microbiome of raw milk samples in a “real-world” scenario at a Cornell farm and the Cornell Dairy Processing Plant in Ithaca. Cornell’s resources are unique in that they represent the full dairy supply chain – from farm to processing to consumer, according to a news release from the university. This initial data collection will form a raw-milk baseline and be used to expand IBM’s Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain bioinformatic analytical tools.

Cornell University is the most recent addition to the Consortium. The food safety initiative was launched in January 2015 by IBM Research and Mars Inc. A year later Bio-rad Laboratories Inc. joined. The Consortium is conducting the largest-ever metagenomics study, categorizing and understanding microorganisms and the factors that influence their activity in various food matrices. The larger food supply chain could adopt this work some day, in hopes of gaining new insight into how microorganisms interact with a given environment.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Cornell to develop new ways to help keep our food supply safe before fraud or contamination hits by developing advanced algorithms, applying machine learning and mathematical modeling to sequence data,” Kristen Beck, technical lead researcher for the Consortium, IBM research, said in a news release.

“Safe food is the first step toward human health. We’re extremely optimistic that with Cornell’s involvement in the Consortium we will make a difference in improving not only food safety, but our overall health as well.”

Even with its massive computing power, IBM Research still needs live researchers behind the technology, including David Chambliss, principal research staff member at IBM Research.

Even with its massive computing power, IBM Research still needs live researchers behind the technology, including David Chambliss, principal research staff member at IBM Research.

Similarly, Jeff Welser, vice president and director, IBM Research, said the partnership with Cornell University will extend the Consortium’s work to a broader range of ingredients, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, to gain new insights into how microorganisms interact within a particular environment.

There is an immense opportunity to improve food safety in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that more than 600 pounds of milk and milk-based products are consumed per person, per year.

Raw milk is the main ingredient in products such as pasteurized drinking milk, baby formula, yogurt and cheese. Currently, raw milk samples are tested for a handful of specific bacteria groups. The Consortium wants to create new tools to help monitor raw milk, in detecting anomalies that pose food safety hazards, and food fraud to the consumer.

“As nature’s most perfect food, milk is an excellent model for studying the genetics of food,” Martin Wiedmann, Cornell Institute for Food Systems and Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said in the news release.

“As a leader in genomics research, the Department of Food Science anticipates this research collaboration with IBM can lead to exciting opportunities to apply findings to multiple food products in locations worldwide.”

More information about the Consortium can be found online at: Sequencing the Food Supply Chain.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

3
Like
Save